Chancellor assures no ‘arbitrary decisions’

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Photo by William Camargo
Photo by William Camargo

The California State University Educational Policy Committee voted to make 120 units the limit for most bachelor’s programs at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday.

The board moved to carry changes to the unit limit, called Title 5, regarding baccalaureate degree units. This limit could be exceeded only if it is allowed by Title 5 definition or if the chancellor grants an exception based on strong justification.

Title 5 makes it possible for the chancellor to intervene if necessary, but the expectation is that campuses will carry out the work on their own.

However, the 120-unit limit will not be imposed on every program. Under Title 5, some programs have a higher unit limit. It does not limit the amount of units students are allowed to take or force students to attend full time or graduate in four years.

Trustee Bernadette Cheyne disagreed with the Title 5 change because it would give the chancellor authority to make unsupervised curricular changes.

“There was no consultation regarding changes to Title 5,”  said Cheyne. “There was some discussion about the value of attempting to reach a 120-unit maximum whenever possible, but changing Title 5 and affording curricular authority to the chancellor was never discussed with the faculty.”

Cheyne proposed the trustees look at the degree programs, see what can be accomplished and then revisit the agenda item at a later time. She also suggested a consultation with the Academic Council and Academic Senate.

Newly appointed Chancellor Timothy White said he would seek advice from faculty and experts in the content area if there were a case he needed to make a call.

“I’m not going to sit in my office and decide in a vacuum,” said White. “I think the comfort that I can provide is that there will be faculty voices on the exceptions; not to worry that I’m not going to be sitting there making arbitrary decisions in my administrative role.”

Consultations with various constituencies in campus administration personnel began in September. The board was presented with the final changes of the proposed Title 5 in November.

The idea to reduce the number of units for a high-unit program will theoretically allow more students to graduate in a shorter period of time.

This in turn allows access for new students to be admitted into the CSU.

According to Christine Mallon, assistant vice chancellor of academic programs and faculty development, one in five students are enrolled in a high-unit program.

High unit majors typically take longer to complete, postpone graduation and delay access to future students.

Mallon added that each year, 5,000-6,000 eligible applicants to the CSU are denied and could be admitted if resources and enrollment space were available.

Cal State Long Beach President F. King Alexander focused on the student’s cost for high unit programs.

He said this year Pell Grants have seen an unprecedented drop from 18 semesters to 12 semesters of availability. This means students who decide to go past six years lose their eligibility.

Alexander said there is national and state pressure to reduce these course credit hours to match trends seen around the country at other state university systems.

“It doesn’t allow (students) to hit the job market running at the same time, in the same manner, that many of their peers do in the state of California and nationally,” he said.

A delayed graduation also means a delayed entry into the workforce.

Each semester of postponed employment costs a student $22,000 in lost wages, said Mallon. She added that the state spends $4,000-$5,000 each year a full-time student is enrolled.

Humboldt State President Rollin C. Richmond said majors requiring more than 120 units for graduation need to undergo scrutiny to assure the student’s and the states’ resources are being used effectively.

Humboldt State administration is not revising the curriculum but asking faculty in high-unit programs to examine and justify the resources necessary to achieve learning objectives.

“If by carefully examining and restructuring the curriculum, a student can achieve the learning objectives of the degree program with fewer units then this is how we know we have high quality programs and still use our resources wisely,” said Richmond.

A common concern among the trustees was to make sure a reduced unit count does not diminish quality or reputation.

In terms of quality, Mallon said it is ensured through faculty integration of student learning outcomes across the curriculum and not necessarily with unit counts.

“We need only to look back at our own history to see that reducing unit requirements does not mean that academic rigor and quality will lose out,” said Mallon.

Cal State Sacramento President Alexander Gonzalez used the college’s business curriculum as an example of undergoing dramatic review.

This high unit program went from 12 concentrations to three. In addition, the school’s faculty senate is engaged in a review and possible revision of general education requirements and graduation requirements.

“Some of them will not be 120 units but the vast majority of them should be,” said Gonzalez. “In the end we will be serving our students in a much better and effective way.”

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